Professional coaching standards?

A coaching colleague asked a question that’s been on my mind since a while:

One thing that worries us is the everrising number of people who call themselves “coach” it seems that every second manager, therapist or teacher uses this title without any or very little training or experience, this is influencing the market negativly with dumping prices, free sessions etc. what are your thought concerning this?

Of course, observing the market myself, and hearing about clients’ experiences, I know what he means. However, my own views on this issue are split. This is what I answered:

The Free-Market View: On one hand, I think it is important to business that new views, methods and ways can enter the coaching practice freely. As experience in numerous other disciplines has shown, a “guild”-like approach is not too well suited for that: the guild tends to protect the rights of its members (as well as their professionality of course), as such, it is an anti-free market community-tool.
While I appreciate this goal in principle, I have never belonged to such a guild, or when I did formally, I have always found myself on the outside of the inside crowd too easily. Note, however, that I believe that the main argument for a “free approach” to coaching as a profession (= anybody can call himself a coach and the market decides) is that I believe that it will benefit the changing needs of business most. This really depends on whether you think coaching is more of a therapeutic, or more of a pragmatic discipline. I adhere to the latter school. In my experience, every client finds the coach that he or she deserves 😉

The Professional Standards View: On the other hand, I appreciate what you are saying – it is hard to create or maintain quality standards in a free space. Which regulations? Which standards? The European way, I suppose, is to seek the common denominator. I have come to appreciate the British way, which tends to be more free-market-oriented.
The attempts of the EU e.g. to regulate everything and everybody do scare me – even though I undoubtedly profit from them often without knowing it (when I eat, use public infrastructure, fix up my house etc.) I have a limited phantasy when it comes to thinking about possible coaching standards.
I have come to appreciate tools and toolmakers, and I prefer it when a craftsman, or a coach, knows his stuff and can apply the tools. But (unlike therapy), business people can possibly be the best judges of that – they know the bullshit from the jewels. After all, there’s enough bullshit around in business, and maneuvering your way through it has been the art of the executive since many years!

Once again, this is spoken in the spirit of the blog – my views are not scientifically supported. I maintain a healthy balance between these two views, ie. I would not want to decide once and for all, though I am rather leaning towards the “Free Market View” of executive coaching: when I hear of a lousy coach, I grit my teeth, and when I hear of a good ethical standard that helps me change my ways so that I can better support my clients, I smile.

I suppose one fundamental problem with a decision between these two views is that nobody really knows, in the merry, crazy world of the mind & body, what causes what and what ultimately benefits or harms.
In this context, anybody – even a plummer turned coach – can initiate a healing process or cause a “bad” executive to change his behavioural patterns. The other way around does not work – a coach turned plummer is less likely to be able to “fix” my pipes. But “working” and “not working” pipes are also much easier to distinguish than “good” and “bad” management. Or at least this is what I think.

Perhaps you can guess what my coaching feels like – it’s not therapy, and it’s not consulting either – rather process work, driven by the client, with me providing tools where I can, but often learning more than I could possible teach. Having said that, I am happy with it, and many of my clients seem to be content. Other coachees find different coaches!

Having said that, I should add, in case this was not clear, that I believe in good and thorough training, and that I do not believe in its absence of training. In particular, I dislike it when coaches cease to learn (professionally). This is one of the main perks for me – besides supervision, which is a must – to be able (and called upon) to forever improve my skills and training. not for its own sake (though learning in itself is fun) but ultimately because it benefits my clients. The clients, I think, can easily distinguish between a “one-trick-pony” coach and someone, who has got experience under, and tools on his belt.

Here is a link to a recent article (in German) on the topic, showing that managers’ demands on coaches are significantly higher than they used to be. Good news!

And here a video (“The art of coaching in business”) full of diverse views “everybody has got a coach in us” (J Nicklaus) – I don’t agree with all the views in this video, but it shows an interesting divergence of views – “educationally valuable”. Not necessarily the most professional view (“You must be completely optimistic”? hm.)
[youtube Jtk3iKLOkbs]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.